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Iterating towards Ajax's/Netherlands 4-2-3-1


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Ten Hag's and Koeman's Ajax and Netherlands sides since the 2018/2018 season have pivoted the more traditional 4-3-3 (with one defensive midfielder) towards the more modern 4-2-3-1 and have inspired me to recreate this tactic in FM21. Though I'm (probably) hardly the first FM'er to try a 4-2-3-1, I'd like to use the roaming playmaker and build my team around such a player.

Crucial for Ajax's performances in the CL have been Blind's ball playing defender role, Frenkie de Jong dropping deep to collect the ball to drive the ball up the field and Hakim Ziyech spraying passes in the box, breaking the offside trap through his partnership with Quincy Promes and being an all-round dangerous player around the opponents box.

After quite some tinkering, I've landed on the tactic you'll see in the screenshot. The Roaming Playmaker seems crucial to this tactic, as this role should ensure the player to drop deep to collect the ball and, with the correct instructions and PM's, drive it further up the field. Inverted Wingers can spray passes as well as cut inside, though they haven't been crucial in any of the games played.

Some things I struggle with and like some advice about:

  • 1 BPD or 2 BPD's? As Ajax, I'd often like to play 2 as having only one can make the build up play somewhat predictable, but it's my (recent) understanding that having a CD on defend doesn't mean the player opts out of build up play.
  • With 2 IW's, I've opted for 2 WB's. Should one (possibly the DL) be switched to defensive duty to ensure having 3 defensive minded players in the team?
  • What role would suit the the second MC? In the Frenkie de Jong role, the RPM would also execute some defensive duties, but I do feel he (and the defense) need to be shielded a bit more. I landed on the box to box midfielder, but I'm also contemplating DLP on defend (the Lasse Schöne role), but I'm not sure how 2 playmakers would function. Ideally, besides shielding the defense a bit, I'd like this player to recycle the ball a bit, by providing the team with some passing relief. I'm pretty sure the box-to-box midfielder might provide extra defensive cover, but lacks the ball retention qualities. 
  • Are 2 IW's a good idea? Originally I started with Quincy Promes (AML) on IF(A) and Antony/David Neres (AMR) on IW(S), but the IF(A) has the "take more risks" instruction, which I don't want Promes to do. As an IW(A), he has roughly the same duties and instructions.
  • What AMC/ST pairing makes sense here? I think I'm pretty set on an AM, as Tadic has been playing his heart out in this position. I've noticed that with a DLF(S), he will occupy roughly the same space as the AM. As an AF(A), the striker might hold the line a bit better and allow for more space between defense and midfield for the AM and IW's to occupy? Does this make sense?
  • I'm thinking the tactic needs a fair amount of pressing. Would a PF suit this tactic? Will my IW's do a lot of pressing high up the pitch?
  • I'm fairly certain this tactic might be a bit too offensive against better opposition. I'm thinking of switching the mentality to 'Balanced' against better opposition in the Champions League and playing with a DLF(S) instead of AF(A), to drop deep and to draw central defenders out of their position, to have the IW's/IF's (I'm thinking of at least 1 IF here) to do overlapping runs. I might also go with a more defensive pairing to the RPM (whose role might be untouchable?) in this scenario.

Anyway, I aim to use the same tactic with the Dutch National Team as well. Preseason (4 games in) has been pretty good so far, with a clinical 4-1 win over PSV. I'm scoring a lot from set pieces (Tadics has scored 2 direct free kicks and 3-4 penalties so far), which seems a bit unusual (haven't set any set piece instructions so far).

Any help regarding the above questions (and any other advice you can think of based on the screenshot) would be very welcome!

20201117172043_1.jpg

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More so than an issue with two wingbacks or two ball playing defenders, I think you need at least one of your two midfielders to hold position. As is, both the BBM and RPM are going to be roaming around and running all over the pitch. They will tire and no one is really anchoring the defense or the team.

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In short:

- your central midfield looks too shaky in terms of roles, especially considering the formation you are using (4231)

- the left flank could easily prove too vulnerable defense-wise, since there is no holding or covering CM role on that side to cover for the attack-minded fullback role (WB on support)

- AM would make more sense on attack duty so as to avoid space congestion, taking your CM roles into account

- in terms of instructions, you are narrowing play too much, which is likely to make you struggle against defensive opposition (and even more so with both wide forwards being played in inside-oriented roles)

- out-of-possession instructions could prove too risky in the context of your 4231 formation

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Thanks for the ideas. I'm currently experimenting with IWB's, it does look they sit a bit too narrow for my taste. I might also widen my formation in possession.

@GianniM, 2 double DM pivots with a CM seems a bit too defensive to me, and I associate the Regista role with a Pirlo-like player, which de Jong (imo) is decidedly not. I'm looking for a role which makes the player drop deep to collect the ball, dribbles higher up the field and provide the team with smart (short) passes forward, after the player has unlocked the space. The IF(A) and IW(S) is also how I would imagine the wings to look like, but I'm unsure how much creative freedom the IF(A) would get. I want this player to be searching for pockets of space in the opponents defense after cutting in from the flank, more or less a second striker from the flank.

@Experienced Defender, I've switched the BBM to a BWM and am contemplating the CM(D) role. Also, won't the AM(A) occupy the same space as the IF/IW/ST?

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1 hour ago, Experienced Defender said:

I would rather switch the RPM into a more holding role (DLP for example, since it's also a playmaker but a holding one). 

Alright. If I go for the DLP approach, how can I ensure the player will dribble the ball up the field? Will a player with the correct shouts ('runs through the middle', 'runs with the ball often', 'comes deep to get the ball') be enough?

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The DLP recommendation is specifically to give the system the balance it lacks. If your immediate instinct is to modify that role not to offer that stability, then you might as well ignore the advice given. 

The DLP will still carry the ball, you'll just have to watch to see if he does so enough to fit the style of play you want. 

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1 minute ago, RTHerringbone said:

The DLP recommendation is specifically to give the system the balance it lacks. If your immediate instinct is to modify that role not to offer that stability, then you might as well ignore the advice given. 

No offense intended, of course. Happy with all input. I'm just trying to replicate the Frenkie de Jong role, which is a bit of a headscratcher for me!

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5 hours ago, Chef Raekwon said:

Thanks for the ideas. I'm currently experimenting with IWB's, it does look they sit a bit too narrow for my taste. I might also widen my formation in possession.

@GianniM, 2 double DM pivots with a CM seems a bit too defensive to me, and I associate the Regista role with a Pirlo-like player, which de Jong (imo) is decidedly not. I'm looking for a role which makes the player drop deep to collect the ball, dribbles higher up the field and provide the team with smart (short) passes forward, after the player has unlocked the space. The IF(A) and IW(S) is also how I would imagine the wings to look like, but I'm unsure how much creative freedom the IF(A) would get. I want this player to be searching for pockets of space in the opponents defense after cutting in from the flank, more or less a second striker from the flank.

Double pivot in DM strata only looks too defensive on paper but isn't necessarily so in practice. The RPM role is available in the DM strata as well, so you don't have to use a Regista.

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1 hour ago, Chef Raekwon said:

Alright. If I go for the DLP approach, how can I ensure the player will dribble the ball up the field? Will a player with the correct shouts ('runs through the middle', 'runs with the ball often', 'comes deep to get the ball') be enough?

I think DLP on support duty can be told to dribble more in player instructions (if I remember correctly). 

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@Chef Raekwon If you want to hold onto the RPM, why not pair him with an ordinary CM-De? His only instruction would be - on FM19 so perhaps it has been altered in the latest two editions - Hold Position which will provide you a bit of stability. The role description - again, FM19 - "With a Defend duty, the Central Midfielder will focus more on sitting deep, curtailing opposition counter attacks and controlling the tempo of the game from the centre of the pitch" sounds like with the right player it could produce something similar to the controlling efforts of Schöne without drawing focus away from your RPM. 

In that thread with the 2DM-1CM recreation I'm one of the tactics linked, and I used a DLP-Su - CM-Su combination (on Attacking mentality) and I did find it too unstable for strong opponents, but well-suited for obliterating Eredivisie sides. So I'd perhaps suggest RPM-CM-Su in domestic competitions and RPM-CM-De for the tougher occasions. 

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So I've been able to play a few games with both the Ajax and Netherlands setup. I've also been constantly tweaking some of the roles and instructions. So far, the results have been promising. As the Netherlands, started with a 3-1 away victory over Bosnia and a 5-1 home victory against a stacked France. As Ajax, won home (friendly) victories against PSV (4-1) and Wolfsberger (6-2). The most important conclusion is that we score a lot of goals and our inability to keep clean sheets (against decent to great opposition). Especially against France, our great defensive pairing of Van Dijk and De Vrij nullified Mbappe/Griezmann, with the large amount blocked shots and key tackles being very noticable. I wanted to play 2 more friendlies as Ajax against decent to great opposition (had scheduled AZ and Barcelona, but these matches would've been played during the international window so I skipped them), but it is what it is.

Overall I'm really impressed with the results so far, but not yet very satisfied with all the moving parts.

  • I might be switching the RPM(S) to a DLP(S). I might also be switching the RPM/DLP from MC to DM. @Experienced Defender thanks for the shout! I noticed Frenkie doesn't drop as deep as he normally does in real life. I'd play him as a left DM paired with a right sided MC. @zlatanera it would be a DM DLP(S) or DM RPM(S) with a MC BWM(S) or MC CM(D). Ideas?
  • The IWBs can sometimes still be a bit too narrow for my liking, which I have offset a bit by a wider shape when in possession. The backs have been kind of prolific, with Hateboer scoring against France and Tagliafico and Mazraoui scoring twice in friendlies.
  • I'm still unsure about IW's/IF's, but I might let it depend on the players available. I don't think (changes in) these roles will have a great impact on the shape of my tactic. I'll always try to have on on attack duty and another on support.
  • I've started to use the AF(A) role for the ST position. I'm still not entirely sure if I want the AF(A), PF or maybe DLF, or even how to decide when each of these roles shine. My thinking still is a AF(A) might be best against weaker sides or when good sides don't have the best defenders, and DLF when you expect to be the weaker side and want to draw the defenders out of their position. As for the PF, maybe it could fit? I'm not sure yet. Input is very welcome!
  • Should the AMC be the teams' primary creator? I've tried to play Wijnaldum there, as he does play on that position for the Netherlands, but he hasn't done superb. I'm contemplating Memphis there for the Netherlands and Tadic for Ajax. Ideas?

20201120095906_1.jpg

20201120095521_1.jpg

20201120095501_1.jpg

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4 hours ago, Chef Raekwon said:

I might be switching the RPM(S) to a DLP(S). I might also be switching the RPM/DLP from MC to DM. @Experienced Defender thanks for the shout! I noticed Frenkie doesn't drop as deep as he normally does in real life. I'd play him as a left DM paired with a right sided MC. @zlatanera it would be a DM DLP(S) or DM RPM(S) with a MC BWM(S) or MC CM(D). Ideas?

Never personally used a BWM as I just don’t sign that style of player. Even with your playmaker in the DM position - especially if you use RPM - you will want someone holding position, so yeah I’d recommend CM-De to start.
It seems like you have clear ideas about 8/11 of the roles, for the other 3 like this one my personal preference is to use generic roles and just tweak things if I see something I don’t like. Same with the AM. If you want your #10 on the ball more, maybe try Su to get him a little deeper? 

Edited by zlatanera
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5 hours ago, Chef Raekwon said:

So I've been able to play a few games with both the Ajax and Netherlands setup. I've also been constantly tweaking some of the roles and instructions. So far, the results have been promising. As the Netherlands, started with a 3-1 away victory over Bosnia and a 5-1 home victory against a stacked France. As Ajax, won home (friendly) victories against PSV (4-1) and Wolfsberger (6-2). The most important conclusion is that we score a lot of goals and our inability to keep clean sheets (against decent to great opposition). Especially against France, our great defensive pairing of Van Dijk and De Vrij nullified Mbappe/Griezmann, with the large amount blocked shots and key tackles being very noticable. I wanted to play 2 more friendlies as Ajax against decent to great opposition (had scheduled AZ and Barcelona, but these matches would've been played during the international window so I skipped them), but it is what it is.

Overall I'm really impressed with the results so far, but not yet very satisfied with all the moving parts.

  • I might be switching the RPM(S) to a DLP(S). I might also be switching the RPM/DLP from MC to DM. @Experienced Defender thanks for the shout! I noticed Frenkie doesn't drop as deep as he normally does in real life. I'd play him as a left DM paired with a right sided MC. @zlatanera it would be a DM DLP(S) or DM RPM(S) with a MC BWM(S) or MC CM(D). Ideas?
  • The IWBs can sometimes still be a bit too narrow for my liking, which I have offset a bit by a wider shape when in possession. The backs have been kind of prolific, with Hateboer scoring against France and Tagliafico and Mazraoui scoring twice in friendlies.
  • I'm still unsure about IW's/IF's, but I might let it depend on the players available. I don't think (changes in) these roles will have a great impact on the shape of my tactic. I'll always try to have on on attack duty and another on support.
  • I've started to use the AF(A) role for the ST position. I'm still not entirely sure if I want the AF(A), PF or maybe DLF, or even how to decide when each of these roles shine. My thinking still is a AF(A) might be best against weaker sides or when good sides don't have the best defenders, and DLF when you expect to be the weaker side and want to draw the defenders out of their position. As for the PF, maybe it could fit? I'm not sure yet. Input is very welcome!
  • Should the AMC be the teams' primary creator? I've tried to play Wijnaldum there, as he does play on that position for the Netherlands, but he hasn't done superb. I'm contemplating Memphis there for the Netherlands and Tadic for Ajax. Ideas?

20201120095906_1.jpg

20201120095521_1.jpg

20201120095501_1.jpg

I know it is total football, but  you'd be better off with a simple holding midfielder role. Preferably,  someone with defend duty.

What you're employing is too aggressive. Too many moving parts. It'll work, but has the tendency to crash, hard, at some point.

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